Cover image: Screenshot from “Joseph(1995)

The last half of Genesis deals with why bad things happen to good people. The life of Joseph, son of Jacob, is the answer to this philosophical question. Joseph’s  life seemed to be fraught with many hardships. In fact, it seemed that the more faithful he was, the more hardship he faced. Throughout all of these afflictions, Joseph trusts God. He trusts that one day God will make all things for his good.

In Doctrine and Covenants 122:7 we are told that “all these things shall give thee experience, and will be for thy good.” Also, “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). 2 Nephi 2:22 tells us that “God will consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” All things will be made good by God IF we will TRUST in God and LOVE him and not let bad things make us bitter. It all boils down to TRUST IN GOD.  If you have trust in God, you do not need any explanation as to why bad things are happening to you. If you do not have trust in God, then no explanation will be sufficient. 

Ephesians 5:20 tells us to “give thanks for all things,” not just the good things. In Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, Corrie and her sister Betsie were moved to Ravensbruck concentration camp and were assigned to a barracks infested with fleas. There had been no inspection, and their Bible had not been discovered. One night they read 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18,“Pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances.” Betsie said, “That’s what we can do.  We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!” Corrie was skeptical as she stared at her sister, and then at the dark, foul-aired room. She asked, “Such as?” Betsie saw all the previous difficulties with new eyes. “Such as being assigned here together… Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear [the words of the Bible]!”  Betsie was even thankful for the fleas that had prevented the Germans from conducting an inspection of their barracks, wanting to avoid the flea infestation. “‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’” she quoted.  “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’  Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. [i]

Through Joseph’s trials, we see echoes of the trials of the Savior. Although both were innocent, they suffered greatly. And yet through this suffering came the very means whereby people were delivered from death.  God was with Joseph in all his trials, just as he was with his Only Begotten Son.

Hated by His Brothers

Joseph’s brothers found many reasons to hate their younger brother. He had the birthright. Each brother had a different reason why he thought the birthright should be his. He was not subtle. They thought he flaunted his dreams of leadership. Although he was the younger brother, he was favored by his father. Genesis 37:3 tells us that Jacob made him a “coat of many colors.” According to the footnote, “The Septuagint translation of this verse indicates many colors, but the Hebrew term may simply indicate “a long coat with sleeves.” One scholar noted that a long coat was the symbol of a better class and it signified the “badge of the birthright which has been forfeited by Reuben and transferred to Joseph.”[ii]

Genesis 37:7-8 Joseph shares his dreams of with his brothers of binding sheaves in the field, and their sheaves “made obeisance” to his sheaf.  Joseph has a type of guileless innocence to think that his brothers wouldn’t be upset by his dream. He assumes that they know that whatever good happened to him would be shared with them. However, his brothers view bowing down as a negative, a younger brother thinking he will be their master someday.

What we sometimes view as negative is really positive. When they go to Egypt seeking relief from the famine, they willingly bow down in gratitude to the person that has saved their lives. And there are additional parallels. Ultimately, all will view bowing down as great blessing, a definite positive. Someday, the righteous will bow down in order to be “crowned with glory.” (Doctrine and Covenants 133:32)  This bowing is not at all demeaning, but it is necessary to receive “all that the Father hath.” 

As he approaches his brothers grazing their flocks, “they conspired against him to slay him.” They plan to cast him into a pit and say that some evil beast has devoured him, thus putting an end to his dreams. Reuben tries save his life, and talks his brothers into throwing him into a pit to starve, intending on rescuing him at a later time when the heat of the moment has passed.  While Reuben is absent, Judah proposes that they sell Joseph to a band of passing Midianites instead of killing him, and he is sold for twenty pieces of silver. When Reuben comes later to rescue him and sees that he is not there, he “rends his clothes” as a sign of deep emotion and mourning (Genesis 37:24-30).

Now they are faced with the ordeal of telling their father that Joseph is gone. They fabricate a story and dip his coat in the blood of “a kid of the goats” and bring it to their father. Jacob recognizes the coat and surmise that he has been killed by an animal.[iii] He refuses to be comforted and says that he “will go to his grave mourning for his son, and he weeps.” The scripture says that his sons tried to comfort him, but this only highlights their great hypocrisy. Think how much a confession from these brothers would have brought true comfort. (Genesis 37:31-35)

Although Joseph was heir to the covenant God had made with his fathers, his jealous brothers sold him into slavery. The Midianites sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt. Then the story abruptly shifts to the story of Judah and his marriage to a Canaanite woman. Many readers of Genesis have wondered at the interruption in the Joseph narrative to present the episode of Tamar and Judah.  Genesis 37 recounts Joseph’s sale into slavery by his brothers and readers all want to know what happens next. If Genesis 38 was not included in the narrative, chapter 37 and the selling into slavery would flow smoothly into chapter 39, where Joseph’s ordeal with Potiphar’s wife is related.  Why then the incongruous juxtaposition of Chapters 38 and 39?  These back-to-back chapters are a wonderful literary foil showcasing the behavior of these two brothers.  While Joseph flees from attempted seduction, Judah solicits a prostitute.  While innocent Joseph is implicated by his discarded coat, Judah is condemned by the articles of his personal identity.  In each case, justice is served, and the character of each man is established.

Tamar’s Story

Tamar’s story[iv] in Genesis 38 tends to be one that is skipped over in Sunday School classes.  Parents tend to skip this chapter when reading aloud to their children. Similar to Lot’s daughters, she resorts to drastic measures to conceive a child. “What good can be said about a brazen woman who took things into her own hands and posed as a harlot in order to seduce her father-in-law?” they ask.  But Tamar has been misunderstood and given a bad rap. If we correctly understand the story we will understand why, later on, when Boaz (a direct descendant of Judah) took Ruth to be his wife, the elders of Bethlehem gave a blessing to the new couple that ended, “May your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah”(Ruth 4:12). 

The story begins when Judah, the instigator of the plot among Jacob’s sons to rid themselves of their brother Joseph, leaves his brethren in Hebron and travels west to Adullam.  Perhaps he knows that his father never fully believed the fabricated story about Joseph’s death and was unable to live near his family because of the remorse and guilt that he suffered. There he marries a Canaanite woman, the daughter of Shua, and begins to live the Canaanite lifestyle, adopting their customs and practices. Three sons are born to this union – Er, Onan, and Shelah. 

Judah chooses a wife for his firstborn son Er[v], a woman named Tamar who is presumably of  Canaanite descent.[vi]  (However, the targum[vii] (scriptural explanation and commentary) on Genesis 38 states that Tamar is the daughter of a priest.[viii])  Er doesn’t turn out to be Tamar’s Prince Charming, however.  The Bible does not tell us exactly what Er does, but apparently it so angers the Lord that he takes his life, leaving Tamar[ix] a childless widow (Genesis 38:7-8). Er’s death shatters Tamar’s expectation for a future living happily-ever-after in a house with a white picket fence, or at least a well-constructed goat pen.  She loses the status and protection that her marriage had afforded her.  In her ancient society, when a woman married a firstborn son, she held the expectation that her son would one day take his father’s place in the family power structure as the primary heir of his father’s estate.  As such a wife and mother of a future community leader, she would become the matriarch of the extended family, enjoying social and economic prestige.  Her husband inherited a double portion of his father’s estate, twice as much as any other heir.  This enabled him to take care of his added responsibilities as the birthright son – supporting any unmarried sisters or his widowed mother.

The ancient world had an emergency plan to save a childless dead husband from extinction.  Moses formalized it as the Levirate Law in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. (Levir is Latin for husband’s brother.) In Judah’s time it appears to have already been an established custom.  According to this custom, if a man died without a child, his brother would marry his widow and , theoretically, cause her to become pregnant. The son born from this levirate marriage bore the dead husband’s name, inherited all his property, and continued as a link in an unbroken genealogical chain as if he were the biological son of the deceased husband.

It was in Judah’s best interests to retain Tamar in the family as well. If Tamar married Er’s brother and bore children, she would help to build the family’s numerical strength and economic soundness, despite the death of her husband.

From a legal standpoint, Tamar’s marital obligation continued as long as her father-in-law was alive.  She was not declared a widow and allowed to go “whither she pleases”[x] until both her husband and father-in-law were dead. Nor did it matter if the brothers or father-in-law were already married. We may assume that an older brother was preferable to a younger brother, who was in turn preferred over the father. Onan[xi] was preferred over Shelah, who was in turn preferred over Judah.[xii]

The responsibility for arranging a levirate marriage for Tamar belonged to Judah. If he did not provide a son or himself as a husband, then she had the prerogative to demand that one of them do his duty by her. This was a right based on custom rather than codified civil laws. Therefore a brother-in-law could choose to accept or reject the request of his sister-in-law without worrying about legal punishments.  If he refused her, his only consequence was public humiliation for failing to perform his familial duty. 

Judah makes arrangements for Onan to marry Tamar. While the purpose of the levirate marriage was to raise up seed for the deceased brother and thus preserve his name, Onan is not so sure this course of action will be beneficial for him financially. To be sure, the death of Er has greatly increased Onan’s share of the family estate. Additionally, he would now be entitled to the share of the firstborn son, which was double that of his brother. That’s 66.6% of his father’s wealth.  If Tamar bore a son, Onan would lose this double portion of the inheritance. Instead, the law compelled him to father the child that would sustain his brother’s name and block his own sons from inheritance. (For this reason, Assyrian law specified that the father-in-law become the “wedding coordinator” for his daughter-in-law and not the brother.[xiii])  And it was a good thing, too.

When the three parties—Judah, Tamar, and Onan reach an agreement, the marriage becomes valid as soon as it is consummated. This union required no dowry or a new marriage contract because all the arrangements of the first marriage remained in force.

Presumably Onan’s reasoning in the matter went like this: knowing he could not openly defy a directive of his father, an act which could have left him disinherited, he connives to delude his father and cheat Tamar. He only pretends to do the honorable thing by marrying Tamar and having sexual relations with her, but each time they are together, he spills his semen on the ground to prevent Tamar from conceiving a child. We can only imagine how appalling and humiliating this must have been for Tamar, but what could she do? Go and tell Judah what his son is doing?  She is powerless to do anything about Onan’s deception. But God has a reputation for coming to the aid of the powerless, and once God steps in, Onan is outmaneuvered. Genesis 38:9-10 reports: “And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.” And so it goes. Suddenly Judah is down to one living son.

Since Judah’s only remaining son was not “grown” (Genesis 38:11), indicating that he had not reached puberty, Judah orders Tamar to go to her father’s house and live as a widow “till Shelah my son be grown” (Genesis 38:11). This arrangement signified an oral contract that Shelah would become her levirate husband when he came of age. In any case, Tamar is pushed out of her home and sent back to live with her folks. Such an action was irregular in that period of time and compromised Tamar’s position. As a childless widow in her father’s house, she is an unwanted burden with no social standing. She has no financial security, being cut off from her husband’s family and inheritance. It is clear that Judah does not release Tamar from her levirate duty at this time.  He readily admits he is afraid that the person one author[xiv] called “Toxic Tamar” would cause him to lose his third son as well. “. . . For he said, Lest peradventure he [Shelah] die also, as his brethren did” (Genesis 38:11b). After losing two sons, he certainly does not want to risk losing his daughter-in-law as well as her dowry.[xv] And yet she is not an independent widow, free to marry someone else as long as the brother of her dead husband is alive. Tamar is in limbo. She has become an economic albatross around her father’s neck. She is a pariah in her father’s house as well as well as in Judah’s house. Wearing the black attire of a widow, she lives in chaste spinsterhood, watching her childbearing years tick away. 

It is interesting to note that historians have discovered ancient Hittite and Assyrian laws that governed the levirate obligation. These documents not only place the responsibility on the brother of the dead husband, but also affirmed marriage of the father-in-law to the widow of his son if no brother carried out this duty. Later, the law of Moses prohibited such marriages between father-in-law and daughter-in-law, but in Judah’s time, especially in consideration of Tamar’s behavior, the father-in-law bore responsibility for keeping his son’s name alive. According to such statutes, conceiving a child by a father-in-law constituted a legitimate way for preserving a son’s name from extinction.[xvi]

Tamar waits. Years pass and Judah’s wife dies[xvii]. Shelah grows to manhood. Yet there is no sign from her father-in-law that he is going to give Shelah to her as a husband as promised. In her day, women were not encouraged to be straightforward, so she could not confront Judah directly about not keeping his word. Once convinced of Judah’s intention to keep Shelah[xviii] from her, Tamar seems to change into a different person. Before this time, she has passively waited for things to happen.  She has let herself be acted upon, but now she determines to take action herself.  When she hears that Judah is on his way to shear his sheep at Timnath, she determines to seize the window of opportunity and make her move.[xix] She tosses aside her widow’s clothes, and disguises herself as a lay sacred prostitute.

Cult prostitutes were common in the ancient Near East. They were women who offered their services to would-be-takers and donated their earnings to the temple.  Genesis uses two different Hebrew words to refer to Tamar on the road to Timnah. The word for harlot as we understand it today is zonah. This word is used first, and later the word kedeshah is used, which means “consecrated woman,” and refers to a female associated with cult worship. Tamar probably knew that Judah was likely to visit a cult prostitute at shearing time.[xx] Apparently he had adopted this custom in order to ensure the increase of his herds during his sojourn in Adullam. Evidently Tamar knew Judah well enough to know that the plan she had concocted would be successful. She pressed Judah to do what he should have done by engineering events that would lead to his fulfilling the law. 

Tamar knew that during the celebrations that accompany the sheepshearing season, many men enjoyed the services of these women who set up shop at the roadside. She proceeds to Enaim and selects a spot at the crossroads where Judah would certainly see her as he traveled to Timnah. In Hebrew, the word “crossroads” is em haderech “the mother of roads” and is an ageless metaphor for a crucial decision. Indeed, a crucial decision is made by both Tamar and Judah at that crossroads.

I wonder if Tamar considered all the things that could go wrong with her plan? Did she consider all the risks to her life as well as to her honor? What if someone besides Judah propositioned her?  What if it was not the right time of her cycle to permit conception? What if someone spoke out against her as a prostitute? She could lose both her reputation and her life. Apparently, she decided that her stratagem was worth the risk.

Judah sees Tamar dressed in a veil which apparently signaled her position as a kedesah, and asks permission to lie with her. “I pray thee, let me come in unto thee…” (Genesis 38:16). Tamar skillfully negotiates the price, letting him set the terms. “What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock” (Genesis 38:16-17). Judah must have been acting spontaneously, because he does not have the promised kid with him. Tamar asks for a pledge that he will keep his word, this time cleverly setting the terms herself. She stipulates that he leave his seal, cord, and staff. The seal or signet is an engraved ring or cylinder made of metal or stone with distinctive markings on it. A man often wore it around his neck on a cord. He used the seal to emboss his personal stamp on official documents. The staff would have been carved with unique markings showing that it belonged to Judah. He entrusts these valuable items willingly to Tamar, showing the high regard given such “consecrated women.” To leave his signet and cord with her is the modern equivalent of giving her his driver’s license. She leaves the scene and returns to her father’s house for a quick change back into her widow’s garb, and, once again, waits.

Judah later attempts to send his friend Hirah the Adullamite to deliver the kid and recover his personal items, but she is nowhere to be found. No one seems to know anything about a kedeshah in that area and he returns empty-handed to Judah. Judah responds by saying, “Let her keep the things, otherwise we shall become a laughingstock.” Judah stews because he doesn’t want to be known as a man who doesn’t pay his debts—never mind that he visits prostitutes. We raise our eyebrows at this seeming inconsistency, but he is obeying the priorities of his time and place. He has a witness that he tried to render payment, Hirah the Adullamite. He goes on with his life. He just wants to make sure he is not a laughingstock in the community. After all, he has his pride. He can’t stress over one woman he met on the side of the road. The matter is done with.[xxi]

Three months later, Judah learns through the grapevine that Tamar is pregnant. Keep in mind that she is the childless widow of both Er and Onan, and had been promised in levirate marriage to Shelah when he came of age. Such an obligation carried a similar legal status to a betrothal.  Tamar’s pregnancy is proof of her adultery, since Shelah has not touched her. In the culture of the ancient Near East, Tamar’s condition would have brought shame to Judah’s whole family. She must be punished publicly in order to restore the family’s honor. Judah calls for her to be brought forth to be burnt.[xxii] The usual punishment for an adulterous woman was being stoned to death –  being burned to death was reserved for the daughters of priests (Leviticus 21:9). [This is yet another evidence of Tamar’s priestly heritage.] Even though she lived at the house of her father while she waited for Shelah to grow up, she still came under Judah’s patriarchal authority. According to the laws of that time, the patriarch of a family had recourse to enforce capital punishment for certain crimes against the family.[xxiii] 

Tamar is brought out to be executed, but she still has one more card to play before this game is over and she turns the tables. She coyly says, “By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff” (38:25).  All these items were conspicuously known to be Judah’s, and identified the father of the child without question. With that, the accused Tamar is exonerated and the charges and death sentence against her are dropped. 

Judah’s next statement is telling. Historically, many translations of Genesis 38:26 render Judah’s speech as “She is more righteous than I,” wording Judah’s acknowledgment as a relative statement where he takes the majority of the blame, while Tamar still bears part of it. However, modern Bible scholars have derived a more accurate translation in which Judah takes total blame and not only exonerates Tamar, but expresses praise for her with the statement, “She is righteous, not I.”[xxiv] In this equally viable interpretation, Tamar is completely vindicated and pronounced righteous.  This is a defining moment for Judah. It “packs the punch” of the prophet Nathan’s statement to David “Thou art the man!” when he confronted him about taking the wife of his friend Uriah the Hittite. Judah finally realizes what Tamar’s intentions have been.  He sees that she has not been seeking to humiliate him, or just been desperate for a child. Such behavior would not merit the term “righteous.” He sees that something more profound drove her to such drastic measures. 

Tamar Rescues Judah

Tamar has been an ezer, a savior of the genealogical line of her husbands. She risks her life and reputation to preserve the family honor. She regards her husbands’ seed as sacred and is willing to put her life on the line to save it. When she gives birth to twin sons, she rescues both her husbands, Er and Onan, although they do not deserve it. Twice the narrator of Genesis 38 tells us that what these two sons did was “wicked in the Lord’s sight.” Twice he tells how God acted peremptorily to prevent this wickedness. But the narrator is silent in assigning blame to Tamar. Tamar is righteous, and the men of Judah’s household are not.

Even though Judah has been deluded by Tamar at the crossroads, and she has exposed him to public disgrace, she calls forth his strongest character trait – his sense of decency. He does not deny the truth, make excuses, or place the blame on Tamar. For once, he takes responsibility and places the blame on himself. His behavior foreshadows the great Israelite leader he will become. He has disregarded the law by not providing for Tamar and disregarded his obligations by sending her away from the family. Yet ultimately, he shows his upright spirit by acknowledging that he has abused her. 

Judah is profoundly changed by his encounter with Tamar. He had left his brethren in Hebron and gone to live with the Canaanites. He had harbored resentment and jealousy toward the brother he perceived as being “favored” by his father Jacob. He initiated the plan to sell Joseph into slavery. But we see the evidence of his life change later in Genesis when he travels with his brothers to Egypt to seek relief from the famine. When Benjamin’s life is threatened, he volunteers to die in his place. This is the brother who felt he had been passed up, now offering himself to die in place of his father’s darling.[xxv] Ultimately, he is identified by his father Jacob as the leader of his brothers. He prophecies that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah” and “thy father’s children shall bow down before thee” (Genesis 49:10, 8).

Tamar epitomizes women who are victimized by legal or patriarchal systems. Many women today get lost in the red tape of bureaucracy. Tamar has the law on her side, but only extraordinary circumstances allow it to work for her. She is a woman who has fallen through the cracks in the law. The law that should have protected her and made her safe instead is used to trap her. She is neither an independent widow nor a married wife. She is a victim of the disobedience of others to the law. She knows that the lives of her future children are more important than the law, and the law must be used to promote life and justice. She has but one right, to be given in marriage according to the levirate law. She intends to depend on that right to save her. She pushes Judah to acknowledge that he is breaking the law with her. She knows the law is on her side and she is being treated unjustly. She takes a risk and uses an ingenious plan to force the issue.[xxvi] 

Through Pharez, her firstborn, Tamar becomes a matriarch in the house of Israel. She becomes a many times great-grandmother to Jesus of Nazareth. Many have wondered why a woman such as Tamar is listed in the genealogy of Jesus. A prostitute in Jesus’ family line? They can’t figure out why her name had to be included. But Tamar did not tarnish the line of Christ. She acted as an ezer and she rescued it. She used ingenuity and decisive action to bring about justice and righteousness. Fairness and human dignity. Of course, her methods would not work in today’s world, but women today can take a lesson from Tamar. They can seek to emulate her strength and assertiveness in bringing about righteousness, not only for themselves but for their families, their tribes, their nations. Tamar’s courageous actions led her family back into God’s covenant. She used her shrewdness and artfulness in bring about the cause of justice in a patriarchal society. In such a society, women could only bring about change by their actions, decisiveness, and ingeniousness in their dealings with men. They are remembered for their nonconformity to the pattern so commonly seen in the Old Testament – women as passive bystanders while life happens around them and they are acted upon, but are not actors themselves.

Tamar is a wonderful role model for women in every age to use their strength to stand up for what is right, even when they confront powerful obstacles. Tamar stands up to the most powerful man in her life – her father-in-law and the patriarch of the tribe. He has the authority to tell her whom to marry and where to live. He can sentence her to death and not be accountable to anyone. Tamar teaches Judah that might does not make right, and what it means to honorably live up to your responsibilities. He becomes a much better man because of Tamar. She rescues him from himself. Tamar’s life has much to teach us about the realities of betrayal, and the risks involved in making a difference. She inspires us to question the status quo and to work toward justice.

Tamar is rightly included in the genealogy of Jesus.  She shows us that even perceived wrongdoing is redeemable through the atonement of Jesus. She has much in common with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Tamar, like Mary, is a woman who is pregnant, unmarried, alone, and in peril with the law. She can be killed if no one accepts responsibility for her and her unborn child in a relationship. Mary, like Tamar, must rely on the righteousness of Joseph for her very life as well as that of her child. Tamar holds out the hope that Judah will recognize his hypocrisy and do the right thing by her. Mary and Tamar both give birth out of the ordinary pattern of their societies.  Ultimately, the Lord will protect the woman and the child.[xxvii]

Tamar survives the death of two husbands, the disgrace of barrenness, the betrayal of her father-in-law, and near death-by-burning, only to emerge triumphant in getting what is rightfully hers. She refuses to wallow in self-pity or accept the injustice dealt to her. Praised for her righteousness, courage, resilience, ingenuity, and skillful manipulation of events, she works within the limitations of the patriarchal system that is responsible for her plight to achieve justice. She is an ezer who rescues the family line from extinction and Judah from hypocrisy through her righteousness and resourcefulness.[xxviii] She proves that a single human being can make a difference in history by using imagination and ingenuity to control her own destiny and the destiny of her descendants.

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

Joseph was a servant in the house of Potiphar, and yet “the Lord was with him.” God did not abandon him, even in the smallest way. Although he was a slave, the Lord enabled him to be a successful slave.[xxix]  His master I saw that” the Lord was with him and made all he did to prosper in his hand,” and consequently made him overseer of his house. It would have been easy for Joseph to feel resentment towards his brothers and perhaps even towards God, but he believed that God could bless him in any situation in which he found himself. “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake,” and his house and fields flourished. (Genesis 39:1-6)

Potiphar “left all that he had in Joseph’s hand,” and left him to handle all the details. Think what this must have meant. Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold into slavery (Genesis 37:2) He was 30 when Pharaoh promoted him (Genesis 41:46) and he was in prison for two years before his promotion. (Genesis 41:1) Therefore, Joseph was in Potiphar’s house for 11 years. It took 11 years for the full measure of God’s blessings to come to Joseph. During this time, he would have had to work extremely hard to learn the Egyptian language and ways of doing business. He must have had to get up early to learn the Egyptian ways and get his work done. God must have blessed him with great skill as an administrator to have made Potiphar’s affairs be so successful.

We also learn that Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. (Genesis 39:6) The English translation “Joseph was a goodly person and well favored” does not convey the powerful nuance of the Hebrew words used to describe Joseph. The Hebrew word yaphah does indeed mean beautiful, and it says “Joseph was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance.” (my translation) The Bible only calls two other men beautiful: David (1 Samuel 16:12) and Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25).

One note of interest is in the Book of Jasher account of Joseph in Potiphar’s house, Potiphar’s wife and her friends are chopping citrons for a salad. “All the women looked on Joseph, and could not take their eyes from off him, and they all cut their hands with the knives that they had in their hands, and all the citrons that were in their hands were filled with blood” (Book of Jasher 44:29). In this account, Zelicah, Potiphar’s wife becomes lovesick for Joseph, “until she had scarce strength to stand” (v. 39).

In the Genesis account, she petitions Joseph “day by day” to lie with her. He continually resists her advances and tells her “my master. . . hath  committed all that he hath to my hand . . . neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:7-11)

What can we learn about morality from Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s wife?  Why is immorality a “sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)  In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, we read “Ye are not your own… for ye are bought with a price.” What price? The Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Although Joseph wisely avoided being with her, there was a day when “none of the men of the house were within,” and she caught him by his garment, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out” (Genesis 39:12).  1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that “God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able to bear, but will make a way of escape.” God provided the way of escape, but you have to take the way out. You have to flee from compromising situations. Joseph must have known that his stand for chastity would cost him dearly, but he knew it was worth it. He was wise to FLEE.

We should all take a lesson from his example. Sexual sin is great because TWO wills have to cave in. Sometimes we try to rationalize that we are not actually running toward sin, but we have a tendency to sometimes linger in its presence. But we are commanded to do the only safe thing, run away from them as fast as you can. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee fornication.” Sometimes a price has to be paid for resisting temptation. We need to trust that God will make all things work together for our good.

Potiphar’s wife concocts a story about how “the Hebrew servant” had come to lie with her and she had screamed but no one heard her, but she had his garment as evidence that her story was true. She knew that her accusation would mean a death sentence for Joseph. Perhaps that is why she did not say his name, because that would make him a real person.

When Potiphar heard this, his anger was aroused. (Genesis 39:19-20) Why doesn’t Potiphar kill Joseph?  Potiphar probably had suspicions about his wife’s behavior and he knew what kind of man Joseph was. His anger probably came because he knew that her accusation against Joseph was not true. I feel sorry for poor Potiphar! He was left with his wife and without Joseph, who made his whole household run so well. Although death was the penalty Potiphar should have demanded, Joseph’s reprieve presumably owed much to the respect he had won from Potiphar and his house. Notice that Joseph never says a word in his own defense. He would not accuse Potiphar’s wife, but let the judgment come, trusting in God to prosper him wherever he was. This showed great strength, because his whole character was at stake. He is eloquent in his silence.

Joseph has indeed been on a roller coaster ride. He has gone from being privileged in his father’s house to being thrown into a pit by his brothers. He has gone from being in sold as a slave to the privilege of managing Potiphar’s house. He has stood up against temptation and been falsely accused and sent to prison.

We can see mercy in his being sent to prison, because if Potiphar had believed his wife, he certainly would have put Joseph to death. And yet, it was unjust, because Joseph had to suffer for someone else’s sins. In this he was a type of the Savior. Since we know the end of the story, we can see God’s hand in all of this, moving his story forward, putting Joseph in the place where he can save his family and the whole world from coming famine.

“The Lord was with Joseph.”

Joseph continues to prosper, even in prison, which was in Potiphar’s own house. (Genesis 40:7)  “The Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21). He was given authority over everyone in the prison, and everything was made to prosper, because “the Lord was with him.” Through his experience in both places, God sharpened the administrative skills Joseph needed to one day administer the grain storage program in Egypt that would save his family and many others.[xxx]

In the prison, Joseph meets two of Pharaoh’s officers, the chief butler and the chief baker. Each of these men had responsibility for what was served to the king. “The potential for assassination attempts through the king’s food was real and constant,” so these officials needed to be above reproach as well as be able to hire people above reproach on the staff. Each was expected to identify attempts to infiltrate the staff by the king’s enemies.  Although the text is silent as to the nature of their offences, “it seems logical to speculate that the king may have gotten sick from a meal.” [xxxi]

Again, “the Lord is with Joseph” and is positioning him for his future role in Egypt. They each have a mysterious dream and are troubled because they do not know how to interpret them. Joseph notices they are sad and asks them why they feel that way. Instead of being consumed with the wrong done against him, he reaches out to help his fellow prisoners. He invites them to share their troubling dreams with him. He has had experience with dreams. He asks them, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8) He interprets each of the dreams, assuring the butler that he would be restored to his place within three days but informing the baker that his days are numbered. (As I write these things, I can hear the music from “Joseph and the Amazing technicolor Dreamcoat” playing in my mind as each man recounts his dream.) Joseph asks the butler to “think on me” when all is well with him, and bring him out of the prison. The three days until Joseph is proved right must have been agonizing for these two men, especially the baker.

Three days later, Pharaoh has a birthday party, and the butler is restored to his place, but the baker is hanged, “in order to both warn and encourage the servant household.” [xxxii] Joseph is proven to be a messenger from God. Unfortunately, the butler forgets about Joseph for two years, until Pharaoh has a dream which he does not know how to interpret.  Suddenly, the butler remembers how Joseph had interpreted his dream correctly and tells Pharaoh that he knows a man who can interpret dreams. (Genesis 41:1-13) Can we see any parallels here between Joseph and the Savior? As an innocent man, he comes into our prison and shares our condition. He reveals God’s message to us. The innocent prisoner is proved true in three days.[xxxiii] 

God’s hand was in all of this because when the time was right, the butler knew exactly where to find Joseph. He is brought hastily from the dungeon, cleaned up and shaved,[xxxiv] and brought in unto Pharaoh. Pharaoh tells him he has heard Joseph can interpret dreams, but Joseph answers, “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” (Genesis 42:16)

Pharaoh’s dream was actually a revelation from God. He received it but he could not understand it. Pharaoh gave Joseph a golden opportunity to glorify himself, but he refuses and seeks only to glorify God. He knows that God alone has the answer. Pharaoh relates his dream—seven fat cows coming up out of the river and seven lean cows swallowing them up. He also relates his second dream—seven full ears of corn sprung up, but were devoured by seven thin ears, withered and blasted by the east wind.  The court magicians have not been able to provide an interpretation, and Pharaoh is anxious to know what is going on. (Genesis 42:17-24)

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream. “The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (Genesis 41:25) The seven fat cows are seven years of plenty, and the seven thin cows that came up after them are seven years of famine, as are the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind. Seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt, but after them seven years of famine will arise. The years of plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will be very severe in the land. The dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God. This is God’s way of doing things—he establishes his word by the mouths of two or three witnesses. The confirmation of the dream also indicates the urgency of the message. This would all happen shortly.

Joseph advises Pharaoh to select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. (Genesis 42:32-34) The food would be collected and stored in preparation for the seven years of famine. Pharaoh likes the idea, and asks his servants, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” (Genesis 42:38) Again, I can hear the chorus singing, “Who this man can be we just don’t know!” Pharaoh had plenty of priests, magicians, and holy men. What he did not have (until Joseph) was a man with the Spirit of God. 

It is interesting to me that Pharaoh perceives that Joseph had the Spirit of God because he knows how to solve practical matters. He didn’t have to preach a sermon for Pharaoh to recognize the Spirit of God in him. It was visible in his character, his wisdom, and his humility.

Genesis 41:39-41 “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.” Joseph is given Pharaoh’s ring from off his hand, fine clothes, and a chain around his neck. This is similar to the honors Mordecai is given in the book of Esther. He rode in the second chariot and all people bowed the knee before him as ruler over the land of Egypt. Does that sound like his dream of the sheaves bowing to him which he had as a teenager?

Genesis 41:45 Joseph was given an Egyptian name, Zaphnath-paaneah.  Jewish legends say each letter of Joseph’s Egyptian name meant something. Linking them all together, these legends say the meaning of this name was “Seer – redeemer – prophet – supporter – interpreter of dreams – clever – discreet – wise.” [xxxv]

He is also given a wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-pherah priest of On—of the Hyksos group then in power in Egypt.  “Hyksos” means “shepherd kings” and were a Semitic group. No further information is provided about Aseneth except that her name is chronicled as being the wife of Joseph in Genesis 41:45, 50; and 46:20.  She is also listed as Joseph’s wife in the pseudepigraphical books of Demetrius the Chronographer (Fragment 2:12), Jubilees (34:20,44:24), and the Testament of Joseph (20:3), but no additional details are furnished. Jewish legend quickly filled in the details surrounding the intriguing mystery of Aseneth. The longest of these stories is in the book of Joseph and Aseneth, written by an anonymous author between the first century B.C. and the second century A.D.

Aseneth, the wife of Joseph

Joseph is portrayed as an exemplar of righteousness in both Genesis and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. His marriage to the daughter of the high priest of Heliopolis was bound to create theological problems for orthodox Judaism. The pseudepigraphical book of Joseph and Aseneth deals with this problem, describing Aseneth’s repentance and conversion from idolatry and portraying her as the archetypal proselyte. Aseneth’s actions of entering into a period of fasting, confession, prayer, meditation, washing, a symbolic changing of clothes, the receipt of a new name, and the eating of a special meal all suggest some type of ritual involved in her conversion. We hear echoes of temple and covenantal language here. However, as the text stands, Aseneth’s conversion is purely a personal affair.

As Aseneth’s is no ordinary conversion, she does not marry an ordinary man. Joseph is the paradigm of the persecuted and exalted righteous man.[xxxvi] He is portrayed as being sensitive to the point of prescience as a result of being endowed with the spirit of God (4:8, 6:1‑7, 19:4). For such a “Powerful One of God” (18:1), a special bride is required. Aseneth becomes such a bride through the commission of the commander of the hosts of heaven.

She is portrayed as being a virgin of eighteen years, very tall and beautiful, “beyond all virgins on the earth.” The narrative especially notes that she had “nothing similar to the virgins of the Egyptians, but she was in every respect similar to the daughters of the Hebrews; and was as tall as Sarah, as handsome as Rebecca, and as beautiful as Rachel”(1:5).

When Aseneth’s mother fetches Aseneth and presents her to Joseph, her father bids her to kiss her “brother.” As she is about to comply with his request, Joseph prevents her. He says that it is not fit for a man who worships God with his mouth to kiss the mouth of one who “will bless with her mouth dead and dumb idols and eat from their table bread of strangulation and drink from their libation a cup of insidiousness and anoint herself with ointment of destruction” (8:5‑6). Upon hearing Joseph’s words, Aseneth is again “cut to the heart” (8:8) and distressed and, although she keeps staring at Joseph, her eyes fill with tears. Besides being cut off from “the living God” because of her worship of deaf and dumb idols, her defilement has imperiled her relationship with Joseph.

Joseph, being sensitive and perceptive, is himself “cut to the heart” (8:9), and places his hand on her head and blesses her. He asks the Lord to “bless this virgin, and renew her by your spirit” (8:9).  He prays that God will “number her among your people that you have chosen before all (things) came into being” (8:9) and that she might one day “enter your rest” (8:9) and “live in your eternal life for ever (and) ever” (8:9).  After Joseph’s departure, Aseneth rejoices because of Joseph’s blessing, and she is filled with much joy and distress, and weeps with “great and bitter weeping” (9: 1) and repents of her worship of her former gods and idols.

Aseneth withdraws to her tower where she repents, prays, and fasts for days. She exchanges her royal robes for sack‑cloth, and throws her idols and their rich sacrificial food out the window. On the eighth day, Aseneth lifts her head just a little from the floor, and without opening her mouth, she utters a pitiful prayer to the true God of Joseph. She does not vocalize her prayer because she feels her mouth is defiled and unworthy of addressing God.[xxxvii]

She declares that she has heard about the Hebrew God, that he is compassionate and longsuffering, and hopes he will have mercy on her and protect her, because she feels she is now an orphan. After this invocation, Aseneth again prays in her heart without opening her mouth, pleading for courage to ask God for forgiveness. She finally opens her mouth to God, confessing her sins and praying for acceptance. After acknowledging his great power and omnipotence, she confesses her former pride and sin in worshiping dead and dumb idols, which she avows was done “in ignorance” (12:5).

After Aseneth’s confession to the Lord, she sees the morning star rise in the east and takes it as a sign of her acceptance. As she continues to look, “great and unutterable light” (14:3) appears and a man comes from heaven and stands at her head in her chamber. This glorious, shining man informs her that he is the commander of the whole host of the Most High, and that he has a message for her. He instructs her to go to her second chamber and change out of her mourning attire, and put on a clean linen robe before he conveys the message. She complies with his wishes, adding a linen veil to cover her head. Returning to his presence, he bids her remove the veil and take courage because he has heard her confession and has seen her humiliation during the last seven days. He informs her that her name is “written in the book of the living in heaven” (14:4) by his own finger and will not be erased. He tells her that he has given her Joseph for a bridegroom forever and gives her a new name, “City of Refuge” (14:7), because under her wings many people trusting in the Lord God will be sheltered.

The archangel commands Aseneth to bring a honeycomb, which mysteriously appears in her storehouse. Placing his hands upon her head, he transmits to her “the ineffable mysteries of God” and bids her eat of the honeycomb, which is the spirit of life, made by the bees of paradise from the roses of life. He breaks off a portion of the comb for her, assuring her that she has now eaten “of the bread of life, and drunk the cup of immortality, and been anointed with the ointment of incorruption” (16:16).

The angel then says, “And now listen to me, Aseneth, chaste virgin, and dress in your wedding robe, the ancient and first robe which is laid up in your chamber since eternity, and put around you all your wedding ornaments, and adorn yourself as a good bride, and go to meet Joseph. For behold, he himself is coming to you today, and he will see you and rejoice” (15:10).

When Joseph arrives, Aseneth meets him in the court. He is amazed at her great beauty, and, not recognizing her, asks her who she is. Answering, she relates to him the events of the preceding night and the experience with the heavenly messenger. Joseph blesses her and acknowledges the visit of the same messenger. Joseph tells them that on the morrow he will visit Pharaoh, who is like a father to him, and he himself will give him Aseneth to wife. Pharaoh rejoices and replies, “Behold, is not this one betrothed to you since eternity?” (21:3).

Genesis 41:50-52 Aseneth bears two sons before the years of famine. Joseph names his two sons Hebrew names that have to do with the situation at the time of their births. Manasseh means “to forget.” God made Joseph forget all his trials. Ephraim means “double fruit,” or “fruitful.” God has indeed multiplied Joseph’s blessings. His sufferings have been forgotten in the joy of his present blessings.

I love this quote from C.S. Lewis about life being retrospective.

“Son, ‘he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity… That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.  The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Paul taught that our suffering can’t be compared with the glory which shall be ours. “We are the children of God . . . and if children then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may e glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:16-18

Final Thoughts

Joseph’s life was a manifestation of this important truth: God will not forsake us. “Following the Savior will not remove all of your trials,” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught. “However, it will remove the barriers between you and the help your Heavenly Father wants to give you. God will be with you” (“A Yearning for Home,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2017, 22). As we said earlier, all things will be made good by God IF we will TRUST in God and LOVE him and not let bad things make us bitter. It all boils down to TRUST IN GOD.  If you have trust in God, you do not need any explanation as to why bad things are happening to you. If you do not have trust in God, then no explanation will be sufficient. 

Because of his trust in God, Joseph was able to stay faithful despite his trying circumstances. President Russell M. Nelson taught that “saints can be happy under every circumstance. We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year! . . . The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation .. . and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.”[xxxviii]

On a grander scale, the life of Joseph portrays many types of Christ, as do other sweeping stories in the Old Testament. The Lord loves to teach his children through types and shadows of eternal truths. Indeed, “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4). Consider these parallels:

Joseph was the favored son of his father; so was Jesus.  (Genesis 37:3; Matthew 3:17)

Joseph was rejected by his brothers, the Israelites; as was Jesus.  (Genesis 37:4; John 1:11)

Joseph was sold by his brothers into the hands of the Gentiles, just was Jesus was. 

(Genesis 37:25-27; Matthew 20:19)

Judah, the head of the tribe of Judah, proposed the sale of Joseph.  Certain of the leaders of the Jews in the days of Jesus turned him over to the Romans. Judas (the Greek spelling of Judah) was the one who actually did the selling.  (Genesis 37:26; Matthew 27:3)

Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver, the price of a slave his age.  Christ was sold for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave his age.  (Genesis 37:28; Matthew 27:3)

In their very attempt to destroy Joseph, his brothers actually set up the conditions that would bring about their eventual temporal salvation — that is, Joseph, by being sold, would become their DELIVERER. Jesus, by his being given into the hands of the Gentiles, and having completed the atoning sacrifice, became the Deliverer for all mankind. 

Joseph began his mission of preparing salvation for Israel at age 30, just as Jesus began his ministry of preparing salvation for the world at age 30. (Genesis 41:46; Luke 3:23)

When Joseph was finally raised to his exalted position in Egypt, all bowed the knee to him.  All will eventually bow the knee to Jesus.  (Genesis 41:43; D&C 88:104)

Joseph provided bread for Israel and saved them from death. Jesus, the Bread of Life, did the same for all men.  (Genesis 42:35; John 6:48-57)

There are many, many others that can be recognized by those who have eyes to see.

[i] Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place, (Carmel: Guideposts Associates, Inc, 1971) 180‑81.

[ii] Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “colour,”  82,  in Old Testament Institute Manual.

[iii] This could also be a parallel to Christ. “The blood-sprinkled coat of each was presented to his father. Joseph’s coat was dipped in the blood of a goat. The blood of Jesus Christ as the scapegoat, a sin offering, was symbolically presented to the Father.” Thomas R. Valetta, The Old Testament Study Guide: Start to Finish, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2021), 145.

[iv] The information about Tamar is from the author’s book. Forgotten Women of God, (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort Publishing, 2010), chapter 12.

[v].  The book of Jubilees in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha states that Er “hated (her) and would not lie with her because his mother was from the daughters of Canaan. And he wanted to take a wife from his mother’s people, but Judah, his father, would not permit him. Jubilees 41:2-3 in Orville S. Wintermute, “Jubilees,” Old Testament Pseudepigrapha ,Volume 2  Ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1985), 130.

[vi].    Many scholars assume that Tamar is a Canaanite because no Israelite connection is specified.  However, since Judah’s wife is specifically referred to as a Canaanite, it could also be argued that since Tamar’s ethnicity is not specified, the silence of the text implies she was an Israelite. 

[vii] Targum: When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple, they spoke the lingua franca of Babylon, which was Aramaic. Although Aramaic was a cousin to Hebrew, the Jews could no longer understand the Hebrew scriptures when the scribes read them aloud. The scribes had to explain the meaning of the Hebrew words to the people, and their interpretations reflect the way the scriptures were understood at the time. These explanations were called targums, and were written down and collected during the following centuries.

[viii].  J. W. Etheridge, The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, Genesis and Exodus, (London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1862), 291.

[ix].  Tamar’s name means “date tree.”  The date tree was strong and sturdy and also was the symbol of fertility. This was ironic, since Tamar was childless after two marriages. 

See Leila Leah Bronner, Stories of Biblical Mothers: Maternal Power in the Hebrew Bible” (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 2004), 102.

[x].  See Middle Assyrian Law A 33, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament Ed. James B. Prichard (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969), 182.

[xi].  Er, whose name is from the root ‘-w-r meaning “energetic” turns out to be “barren,” from the root ‘-r-r.  Onan, ‘-w-n, the root of whose name has two connotations, meaning “vigor,” or its opposite, “weariness,” comes to “nothingness,” a play on one of the root meanings. 

See Bronner, 101.

[xii].  James Baker, Women’s Rights in Old Testament Times (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1992), 150.

[xiii].  “{If}, while a woman is still living in her father’s house, her husband died and . . . she has no {son, her father-in-law shall marry her to the son} of his choice . . . or if he wishes, he may give her in marriage to her father-in-law.  If her husband and her father-in-law are both dead and she has no son, she becomes a widow; she may go where she wishes.”  See Middle Assyrian Law A 33, in Prichard, 182.

[xiv].   T. J. Wray, Good Girls, Bad Girls  (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008) 108.

[xv].  See Baker, 158, fn. 31

[xvi].  See Carolyn Custis James, Lost Women of the Bible  (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 111.

[xvii].  In the book of Jubilees, Judah’s wife’s name is Bedsuel.  See Jubilees 41:7 in  

Wintermute, 130.

[xviii].  Ironically, Shelah which means “hers” is never rightfully given in marriage to Tamar.  Shelah never becomes “hers” because his father fears that he, too, will die like his two older brothers.  See Bronner, 101.

[xix].  According to Pseudo-Philo in the Pseudepigrapha, Tamar’s “intent was not fornication, but being unwilling to separate from the sons of Israel she reflected and said, “It is better for me to die for having intercourse with my father-in-law than to have intercourse with gentiles” (9:5).

See D. J. Harrington, “Pseudo‑Philo” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1  Ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1985), 315.

[xx].  A scholar has written, “It is known that feasts of the preexilic period were accompanied by ritual fornication with the magic intention of securing rich crops and increase of herds. Judah’s visit to a hierodule at that time of year was a predictable ritually pre-scribed act.”  See Michael C. Astour, “Tamar the Hierodule,”: Journal for Biblical Literature 85 (1966): 193.

[xxi].  See Megan McKenna, Not Counting Women and Children (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1994), 94

[xxii].  In the Bible, Tamar was to be burned because she was a harlot.  In Jubilees, which was written much later than Genesis, the prohibition against intimate sexual relations between fathers-in-law and daughters-in-laws was emphasized.  It states that Judah was forgiven because he committed the sin unknowingly and that he repented, having “gone astray because he uncovered the robe of his son.”  He “condemned himself in his own sight.”  He is told in a dream by the Lord that “it was forgiven him because he made a great supplication and because he mourned and did not do it again.”  See Jubilees 41:23-24 in Wintermute, 131.

[xxiii].  See Baker, 152 and fn. 35.

[xxiv].  The preposition min in Hebrew can be viewed as a “comparative of exclusion,” in which the subject alone bears the quality described. Only Tamar is righteous, not Judah.  The Hebrew is ambiguous here. Waltke, Bruce K., Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 513.

See also Bruce K. Waltke, And M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 265 and 14.4e (comparatives of exclusion) and Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, Ed. by E. Kautzsch (London:  Oxford University Press, 1910), 430 n. 2 Genesis 38:26 “she is in the right as against me.”

[xxv].  See James, 116.

[xxvi].  See McKenna, 98.

[xxvii].  See Ibid., 98-99.

[xxviii].  See Wray, 108-109.

[xxix]  Would that all of us could take our less than desirable circumstances and make the best of them!

[xxx] Insights from

[xxxi] Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, 1:128).

[xxxii]  Nelson Study Bible [NKJV], 70.

[xxxiii] Insights from

[xxxiv] “In preparation for his first royal audience Joseph shaves and doffs his prison garb. He does this, of course, to make himself more presentable to the head of state. We know that the Semites preferred to be bearded, whereas the Egyptians were clean shaven. Joseph will look more like an Egyptian than a Hebrew, even if he is a ‘Hebrew lad’ (v. 12)” Hamilton, Book of Genesis, 18-50, 492) in Valetta, Old Testament Study Guide, 151.

[xxxv] Insights from on this verse.

[xxxvi].  Nickelsburg, 68.

[xxxvii].  Adam instructs Eve to let no speech come out of her mouth as she does her penitence in the Tigris River because her lips are unclean from partaking of the forbidden fruit.  See Vita Adae et Evae 6:2 in M. D. Johnson, “Life of Adam and Eve” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2   Ed. James H. Charlesworth  (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1985)

[xxxviii] Russell M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” 82.